Summer 2016

Rethinking the Psychology of Leadership: From Personal Identity to Social Identity

S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen D. Reicher

Leadership is an influence process that centers on group members being motivated to reach collective goals. As such, it is ultimately proven by followership. Yet this is something that classical and contemporary approaches struggle to explain as a result of their focus on the qualities and characteristics of leaders as individuals in the abstract. To address this problem, we outline a social identity approach that explains leadership as a process grounded in an internalized sense of shared group membership that leaders create, represent, advance, and embed. This binds leaders and followers to each other and is a basis for mutual influence and focused effort. By producing qualitative transformation in the psychology of leaders and followers it also produces collective power that allows them to coproduce transformation in the world. The form that this takes then depends on the model and content of the identity around which the group is united.

S. ALEXANDER HASLAM is Professor of Psychology and Australian Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland. He is also a Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and Associate Director of its Social Interactions, Identity and Well-Being program. His research explores group and identity processes in social and organizational contexts, and is exemplified by the recent book The New Psychology of Leadership: Identity, Influence and Power (with Stephen D. Reicher and Michael J. Platow, 2011).

STEPHEN D. REICHER is Wardlaw Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He has a longstanding interest in crowd behavior, mass social influence, and political rhetoric. His recent books on these topics include Self and Nation (with Nick Hopkins, 2000) and a five-volume series of readings on Leadership (with S. Alexander Haslam, 2014).

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